By Margo Kirchner
The state this week appealed the decision invalidating the Wisconsin Constitution amendment known as “Marsy’s Law.”
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Frank D. Remington declared last month that the April ballot question asking whether the amendment should be adopted failed to fully and fairly inform the public of the essential components of the amendment, misstated the contents and impact of the amendment, and improperly encompassed more than one subject.
Wisconsin Justice Initiative, three individual voters, and Sen. Fred Risser successfully challenged the ballot question and amendment in the trial court and obtained a permanent injunction against the amendment’s implementation. Remington, though, stayed the injunction pending appeal.
Attorney General Josh Kaul appealed the judgment on behalf of himself, the Wisconsin Elections Commission and its chair, and Secretary of State Douglas LaFollette. The appeal will be heard by the District III appeals court. The state is allowed to choose the appeals court district as long as it is not the district that includes the court that issued the original decision.
District III is located in Wausau and consists of judges Lisa K. Stark , Thomas M. Hruz, and Mark A. Seidl.
In the trial court, WJI and the individual plaintiffs argued that the ballot question failed to warn voters that they were striking the state constitution’s only reference to a defendant’s fair trial, eliminating a defendant’s right to exclude an alleged victim from the courtroom if necessary for a fair trial, and altering defendants’ rights set forth in other sections of the Wisconsin Constitution and state statutes.
Remington agreed, writing that the question at hand was “about the integrity of the process of amending the State Constitution by ballot. Voters deserve to know what they are voting on.”
Plaintiffs also argued that the ballot question directly misled voters, telling them that the amendment would protect a victim’s and an accused’s rights “with equal force,” while the amendment’s text actually permitted a victim to receive greater protections “no less vigorous” than the accused receives. Again, Remington agreed.
Finally, plaintiffs argued that the amendment contained more than one subject, requiring multiple ballot questions. Remington agreed again, holding that under the Wisconsin Constitution two questions were required: one for expanding victims’ rights and one for narrowing rights of the accused.
Remington did not comment on the public policy of Marsy’s Law. Instead, he focused on process, stating that “Wisconsin voters deserve no less than to be asked the right question(s). Wisconsin voters cannot and should not be misled or deceived if the outcome of the ballot question is to have full force and effect of law.”
Marsy’s Law is the personal cause of billionaire and now convicted drug felon Henry Nicholas III. He and his organizations have advocated for passage of substantially similar amendments in at least 20 states. The national Marsy’s Law for All website states that after achieving successful constitutional amendments at the state level the organization aims to be “ultimately successful at the national level” as well.
Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, LLC spent over $1.5 million from January 2017 through June 2019 lobbying the Legislature to approve the amendment and ballot question so the matter could be sent to voters.
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